On Wednesday evening I was in the picturesque surroundings of a small market town, nestling in the rolling Shropshire hills. This unassuming pastoral idyll is often known as A.E. Houseman Country after the Victorian writer’s evocative 'Shropshire Lad'. It will soon be re-named 'Penny Brookes Country' after a less well known but even more important Victorian polymath.
There was something of a buzz of anticipation, but the 200 or so people gathered with me and Jonathan Edwards in Much Wenlock's Priory Hall had little idea about the significance of the message we were about to share.
One hundred and twenty years ago, the Priory Hall was Much Wenlock's National School. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the young French aristocrat who, six years later, would found the modern Olympics, was touring the UK in search of inspiration. He found it right here in the Priory Hall where he met the octogenarian William Penny Brookes. For the last forty years Brookes had been running the Much Wenlock Games.
Concerned about youth delinquency, Brookes, the local doctor and justice of the peace, founded a multi-sport championship drawing on the ancient Greek model. More than that, it had an opening parade, medal ceremonies, a celebration of arts and even adult literacy programmes. The games run annually to this day.
De Coubertin forged an instant friendship with Brookes and later called him his 'oldest friend'. Even more importantly he wrote that Brookes and Much Wenlock had given him the inspiration to create the modern Olympic Games.
It is a wonderful story but few people in the UK, let alone the rest of the world, are aware of it. So imagine, if you will, the excitement when Jonathan and I revealed that the name of London 2012's Olympic Games mascot was 'Wenlock'.
There were spontaneous cheers, euphoric children and many a moist eyed grown up. Indeed the secretary of the Wenlock Olympian Society was in tears. As the news sunk in they all realised that their remarkable story would, at last, be shared not just with neighbours in the West Midlands, or even in the Olympic Host venues around the rest of the UK, but all around the world.
You might expect me to be a fan of our mascots – and I am – but their names, and Michael Morpurgo's magical story of their birth are sheer brilliance (and I wish I could claim some credit for either – but can’t). Wenlock and Mandeville are very much of now – absolutely created to the tastes and passions of modern children – but in their names they cast a light on two unique and vitally important parts of the UK’s sporting heritage.
They were very much the talk of the (Swiss) town twenty four hours later as the Olympic world gathered in the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s headquarters in Lausanne. It was the second forum called jointly by the IOC and the United Nations to explore the links between Olympism, world peace and the Millennium Development Goals. The boldness of de Coubertin’s vision in bringing athletes from every country together to share in the glory of human achievement was matched in many of the presentations showing the vital part that sport and the Olympic Values can play in developing communities, in conflict resolution and in disaster relief.
From Sri Lanka we heard about sports festivals run by the national Olympic Committee to reintegrate the Tamil Community.
In the Congo we heard of sport being a primary tool of the UN peace keepers and nation builders.
We and colleagues from UNICEF told of our own experiences from the London 2012 International Inspiration programme.
A delegate from Papua New Guinea explained the role of his Olympic committee in bringing sport and Olympism to the fight against AIDS and HIV in remote rural communities.
The Olympic Truce is a tradition that goes back to ancient Greece when all warfare was called to an end for the gathering of athletes to the Games. Even now each Games' host government proposes a resolution of truce to the United Nations for the period of its Games. In less than two years it will be our turn to go in front of the UN General Assembly in New York.
We've returned from Lausanne brim full of ideas for how young people can help to shape London 2012's resolution. I can only hope that, wherever they are, Victorians William and Pierre and up-to-the-minute Wenlock and Mandeville, will approve...